• Carlie Sitzman MA, CT

The Solution to the Translator Shortage: Learning from the Squid Game Subtitle Errors


Since news of the Squid Games subtitle errors hit, word of a translator shortage has been reverberating throughout the Internet. Language service provider executives have frantically stated that they will soon be unable to supply enough high-quality translators to meet the entertainment industry’s growing demand for subtitling projects. There simply won’t be anyone to perform translations. Others believe education is the answer, but don’t know what they will do while new translators are being trained. Although education can be a good way to increase supply of quality translators, it will only go so far. There is one vital solution language service providers seem to be ignoring: paying good translators and subtitlers fair rates.


Solution in a Nutshell

The fastest way to solve the translator shortage is to tap into the large swath of existing quality translators and subtitlers who regularly command higher rates working elsewhere. Many of these translators would be thrilled to apply their considerable skill and expertise to the translation of subtitles. It has been common knowledge among translators for years, however, that fair compensation typically is not offered for film and television series subtitling projects. A well-qualified, experienced, full-time translator simply cannot afford to translate a full-length feature film at a pitifully low rate when their expertise is valued highly elsewhere.


Importance of a Good Translator

Language service provider and entertainment industry executives seem to think they are doing translators and subtitlers a favor by letting them subtitle such high-profile content. It is actually the other way around. A high-quality translator is the only thing standing between the entertainment industry and the high-profile embarrassment a shoddy subtitle translation can bring.


Why Pay More?

Why can a high-quality translator or subtitler command high prices? When you hire a good translator or subtitler, you are hiring much more than a person who speaks two languages. You are hiring a detail-oriented bilingual person who is also a professional writer, pro researcher, subject matter expert, and cultural virtuoso. What exactly does this mean? Let’s look at the six characteristics of a quality translator or subtitler in more detail.


Complete Fluency in Two Languages

Good translators must be completely fluent in at least two languages. Let’s say you speak two languages well enough to go on vacation in another country and conduct business in another language. Are you fluent enough to be a translator? No. The fluency possessed by a good translator goes well beyond this. Now let’s say you are fluent enough in two languages to vacation in another country, do business in another country, discuss the fine nuances of factory automation with your best friend in another language, and understand an academic paper on factory automation in another language. Are you fluent enough to be a translator? Yes, you probably are.


Outstanding Writing Skills

Top-notch translators must have the same skills as monolingual professional writers in their target language. This means that they have to be able to write flowing prose, use grammar and punctuation correctly, and utilize a broad range of vocabulary to make the text engaging. These skills can be hard to come by in the general population, let alone among bilingual individuals! A good translator masters them while also ensuring that their writing matches the tone and content of the original foreign language text.


Full Cultural Competence

Skilled translators must be intimately familiar with the characteristics of the cultures that accompany their two languages. This is because understanding lies at the heart of a good translation. There is no way to fully understand a foreign language text without comprehending the cultural context. Nowhere has this been clearer than in the Squid Game subtitling mistakes, many of which were criticized for disregarding the unspoken cultural meaning behind specific words, phrases, and content.


Subject Matter Expertise

As a way of fully understanding a text, subject matter expertise can be found at the core of the art of translation right alongside cultural competence. Many of the texts translated on a daily basis would be hard for laymen to understand in their native language, let alone a foreign language. Translators cultivate specialized knowledge that allows them to understand complex subject matter and write about it as if they were a professional working in that field. So a translator specializing in electrical engineering must cultivate in-depth understanding of electrical engineering concepts and learn to write like an electrical engineer in order to be successful.


Research Skills

Being a stellar researcher is also part of a quality translator’s job. It is not uncommon for translators to run across obscure technical words or complex concepts in their target languages. They must be able not only to research these concepts in two languages, but also research the accompanying vocabulary to get a good idea of what it means and how it is used.


Critical Thinking & Attention to Detail

Critical thinking and attention to detail are crucial to a translator’s job. The act of translation is a very complex mental endeavor that involves fully understanding a text and reformulating it in another language. It is easy to leave out a concept on the first try, misplace punctuation, translate a single important word ten different ways, or write a disjointed sentence that makes no sense within the given context. A good translator is capable of being aware of their work and going through again to catch mistakes such as these.


So if you are worried about the impending translator shortage, don’t just run to the nearest university. Pay your translators fairly and you will reap the benefits of work performed by skilled, experienced professionals.


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